Sunday 01 December 2013
The chief cleric at one of the world's holiest mosques tells Sky News that acts of Jewish prayer could spark a regional war.
A simple act of Jewish prayer could spark a catastrophe
by Sam Kiley, Middle East Correspondent in Jerusalem
The supreme leader of the Palestinian Muslims and guardian of Islam's most sacred shrine in the Old City of Jerusalem has warned of an uprising and regional war if Jews attempt to take greater control of the al Aqsa Mosque complex.
The warning came amid advancing efforts in the Israeli parliament to try to take administrative control of the sacred Islamic site which Jews also lay claim to as it sits on the remains of their Second Temple.
For now "sovereignty" of the Haram al Sharif, as the complex is traditionally known, lies with Jordan.
But several Knesset members, led by deputy speaker Moshe Feiglin, a member of the Likud Party, are pressing for greater access to Jews for prayer on the site and administrative control of it.
"It is the hard core of our identity ... those places that represent the basis for our existence here altogether. Should we insist on [access to] these places or not?" Mr Feiglin told Sky News.
"Because if we cannot insist on our legitimacy on our basic rights to pray in the most holiest place for the Jews in the land of Israel - under Israeli sovereignty in the middle of Jerusalem - then we're losing our legitimacy not just in Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, but everywhere else."
The Knesset member is a forceful rejectionist of talks with the Palestinians aimed at establishing an independent state on the West Bank and in Gaza.
He believes that Israel is a threat to itself by ceding territory it captured in 1967 and has occupied since then. On the issue of what Jews call the Temple Mount, he is equally unbending.
"I don't need to prove anything, history says it all. Any honest person who learned a bit of history knows the truth - Jerusalem belongs to the Jews and to the Jews only, that's a fact. And by the way the Temple Mount never really interested Muslims before the Israelis came back."
The Mohammed Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, issued a stark warning against any attempts to replace the Muslim administration of the Haram al Shari/Temple Mount in an exclusive interview with Sky News.
"If the Israelis come here it will be more than an intifada," he said.
What do you mean more than an intifada?
"The whole region will be engulfed by war," the Grand Mufti insisted.
Such threats are not idle.
In 2000, Ariel Sharon triggered the Second or "al Aqsa" Intifada which led to the deaths of 4,000 people and many more wounded over the next half decade by insisting on his right to visit the shrine.
He did so at a time of heightened tension when 10 years of talks aimed at ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza appeared to Palestinians to be going nowhere - and when they were also frustrated at the ineptitude and corruption of their own leadership.
Violence In 2000, 4,000 people died in the Second or 'al Aqsa' Intifada
Today, peace talks are going nowhere. The Palestinians have been letting Jewish settlements chew into their lands on the West Bank. Their leadership remains corrupt and incompetent - and are increasingly being seen as collaborators.
The tinder box that Mr Sharon, then leader of the Israeli opposition, lit in 2000 is just as dry now.
"It's a huge and dangerous issue - taking the place from Muslims where they believe they have the right to pray is very dangerous," Grand Mufti Hussein said.
Jews are banned from praying on the holy site by the Israeli police, although the courts have found that they should be able to exercise this right.
They are also forbidden, when they do visit, from removing so much as a leaf or a grain of soil.
Sky News joined a small group who were escorted by an Israeli policeman, who monitored their progress on a pre-set route around the outer edge of the 35-acre complex.
They prayed by talking to themselves as they walked, or by pretending to be in conversations and instead reciting invocations.
They were led by Rabbi Yitzchak Reuven, assistant director of The Temple Institute which is dedicated to restoring the temple to its third incarnation and is collecting the sacred vessels that one day it hopes will be used there.
A model of the Third Temple has pride of place in the Temple Institute Museum just 100 yards from the Western Wall - all that remains of the Second Temple since its destruction by Rome in 70AD.
Rabbi Reuven said: "It's not a fantasy at all because we have the instructions of what needs to be done, we have the information, we have the technology to achieve all these things.
"In terms of arriving at the moment that's a historical process, we don't expect a metaphysical change in the world, we don't expect a divine intervention that's going to set things right."
His ambition may have a purely theological intent, but it also poses an explosive political reality.
He is sanguine.
"We're hoping by increasing awareness we will be closer to achieving the dream of the Jewish people and one that we have for the entire world because as Isaiah says this shall be a house of prayer for all nations."